Former youth football club official pleads guilty

Felony theft conviction draws term of 90 days

February 26, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The former president of a Columbia youth football club who deposited money meant for the club into his own account and kept about $5,000 when he reimbursed the organization a few months later pleaded guilty yesterday to felony theft and was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure said before imposing the sentence that Richard A. Valentine, 46, violated the trust of the 175 children who played football through the Columbia Bulldogs Association and the hardworking volunteer parents who made the now-defunct organization run.

"This is a theft from the children of this program," said Leasure, who followed the recommendation of prosecutors and suspended all but three months of a five-year prison term. She also placed Valentine, of the 11600 block of Norwich Lane in Ellicott City, on four years of supervised probation.

"It's a very sad commentary when this occurs in the community," she said.

Valentine, who on Tuesday repaid the $5,382.50 he still owed the football club, will serve his sentence on weekends at the Howard County Detention Center.

After the hearing, Valentine's attorney, Michael W. Moore, said his client "would like to leave all this behind him" now that the case is over and the money repaid.

"He's sorry for any damage he caused the community," Moore said. "From the start, it's been his intention to make full restitution to everyone."

The theft was discovered in May while investigators were looking into the unrelated actions of the club's former treasurer, Harriet Williams, who stole tens of thousands of dollars from the club.

Williams, 51, pleaded guilty Tuesday to two theft charges -- one related to the Bulldogs, the other to her former employer, Maryland Motor Truck Association. Prosecutors said they will ask Leasure to impose a prison term of five to seven years at Williams' sentencing June 11.

While looking into the club finances, investigators discovered that a $20,625 donation to the Bulldogs had been deposited into Valentine's bank account in September 2001, prosecutors said. Three months later, $15,242.50 was withdrawn from Valentine's account and deposited into the Bulldogs account, prosecutors said.

When confronted by authorities, Valentine, who served as association president from 1996 to 2002, said he originally planned to use the money for the club and used his own account so he would have better access, but he was having financial trouble and used some money to pay bills, prosecutors said.

Yesterday, prosecutor Lynn Marshall pointed out that Valentine, who Moore said works for IBM, and his wife made a combined salary of nearly $245,000 in 2001 -- the same year as the theft -- yet Valentine took the money, citing problems related to a marital separation.

"Frankly, your honor, the state finds that to be outrageous," said Marshall, who said the case called out for "punishment."

Football organizers have blamed the Bulldogs organization's failure on the revelations about the missing money and the roles of Valentine and Williams, the prosecutor said. A new club, Columbia Ravens Football Inc., is suing Williams on behalf of its predecessor.

But Moore said that, unlike Williams, Valentine's actions constituted a single, "isolated event." Valentine initially put the money in his account with "honorable intentions" because of difficulties communicating with Williams, the lawyer said, but then "commingled" the money with his own and did not return it all.

Since the discovery, Valentine has lost "every single friend" and the respect of "almost everyone he knew in Howard County," said Moore, who asked Leasure not to impose active jail time.

Valentine, who insisted that he had nothing to do with the club's failure, said he is certain that he used at least some of the money for the program but has no receipts as proof.

"I made a couple of bad judgments ... that have cost me dearly," he told Leasure.

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